A mystery on Knollwood Drive

Residents in this tightly-knit community of winding roads and cul-de-sacs tucked away in the northwestern corner of New Brighton, have a mystery on their hands: who, or what is killing the wild animals?

The harassment appears to be aimed squarely at a resident on Knollwood Drive who buys corn to feed the wildlife, although there is at least one other wildlife lover in the area doing it on an even bigger scale.

The Knollwood Drive resident, who wants to remain anonymous, had a feeder that was torn down and destroyed, dead birds and squirrels killed by a pellet gun have been left his yard, and most recently a pair of deer legs were found by his back door.

But the mystery really accelerated the morning of Nov. 28 when a dead doe and fawn were found in the man's yard. He suspected that the bloody animals had been shot, although no shots were heard, and called New Brighton police.

The letter

Bob Comer, a block captain on nearby Valley View Lane, says about 30 copies of a rambling, anti-deer letter were distributed recently to neighbors. The letter was not signed although it contained the name and prescription information for a local resident.

The prescription label, copied in the letter, was for doxycycline hyclate, a tetracycline antibiotic used to treat Lyme disease as well as a variety of other bacterial infections. Lyme disease can be carried by deer ticks, according to medical sources. The letter writer, who refers to the harassed neighbor as "Mr. Corn," also goes on to claim to have seen rats at the man's feeder. The Bulletin contacted the man named in the letter, Neal Zumberge, and Zumberge said, in fact, he was the author.

His letter went on to mainly express concern about Lyme disease, and says his dog, Rowdy, had been treated in case he has it, as well.

Zumberge said he has also taken other measures to attempt to keep the herd of deer from running through his yard, on their way to "Mr. Corn's" feeder, just across Knollwood Drive, by blocking their paths, but these measures have been unsuccessful.

Rick Johnson works with Ramsey County picking up dead deer, usually road kill, and delivering them to the Wildlife Science Center in Columbus, near Forest Lake, where they are fed to bears, wolves, cougars and other captive predators.

But this time, Johnson gave the carcasses to an elderly acquaintance who hung the deer in his garage in preparation for butchering and freezing. Shooting was still the suspected cause of death of the deer that had bled significantly from the mouth and face when the acquaintance noticed the absence of bullet holes and notified Johnson. Johnson called the DNR. The DNR confiscated the deer carcasses and the matter currently remains under investigation as to how the animals died. When asked about the possibility of poison, Greg Salo, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) supervisor for New Brighton, said, "That's just one of a number of things we're looking at. Even if they had been poisoned," he said, "the animals may have walked up to a mile before collapsing," underscoring the difficulty of nailing down the location of the crime.

Poaching suspected

New Brighton police issued a Neighborhood Alert within days of the incident letting local residents know that the DNR is investigating and providing information on how to turn in poachers.

Patty Holt of the DNR Enforcement Division said poaching is "a catch-all term for illegal hunting, like saying Puffs for Kleenex." Salo supported that analogy by saying that the illegal killing of a deer in any form is considered by the DNR to be poaching.

"It is not illegal to feed deer within the city," said Sgt. Steve Moore, in charge of the investigation for New Brighton police. "We're working closely with the DNR and taking this investigation one step at a time."

When asked about harassment, Moore said it could be a possibility but again, it's part of the investigation. A New Brighton police report on the incident has not been released.

The harassed resident where the doe and fawn were found as well as others in the area are not giving up easily on the belief that the animals were shot.

When asked about the birds and squirrels that had been shot and found in "Mr. Corn's" yard, Zumberge strongly pleads innocent. I don't even own a gun," he said. However he was not so quick to let his dog Rowdy off the hook.

"He's always dragging something out of the woods; dead birds, animals, even a deer leg," Zumberge said.

The area resident who feeds the Rice Creek deer that hang out in the wooded areas on an even larger scale, had a record 17 deer in his yard one evening, enjoying the corn and bales of alfalfa he puts out, according to Comer. A neighbor's complaint about that activity has to do with deer droppings, according to a woman who answered the phone at the man's address. The man did not return a call asking for comments.

"Mr. Corn" plans to fight back.

"Do you know what this is?," he asked as he unloaded a surveillance camera system from his SUV.

It's mysterious but no mystery to some in the neighborhood, including his girlfriend who said, when shooting of the deer was suspected as the cause of the animals' death, that she's concerned about gunfire in their yard, and also wants to remain anonymous. Zumberge also expressed concern over gunfire, mentioning a family with several small children that had recently moved into the area.

Deer can evoke controversy ... at times wreaking damage on flowers and shrubs, harboring ticks, and colliding with cars. They're marveled at and loved by many, but also controversial, at least in the case of the mysterious events on Knollwood Drive.

Editor's note: Photos of the dead deer discovered Nov. 28 on Knollwood Drive were not made available to the Bulletin at the request of authorities because they are considered to be part of the ongoing investigation.

Denny Lynard can be reached at dlynard@lillienews.com or 651-748-7823.

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